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by Jenny Rea, Ph.D.

The other day, I was watching a cartoon with my children, and I oddly felt a strong resemblance to the main character. The episode began with Bow, a cat, who puts on a play for his friends. Bow attempts to play multiple roles simultaneously. One minute he was a violinist, the next an evil knight, and then the king. 

In the midst of Bow’s chaos, props were jostled, and he began panting from running around. One friend said, “Wait, I’m really confused. Who’s the good guy? And who’s the bad guy?” At this point, Bow realized his play was a complete disaster – there were too many roles to do on his own

Bow then reached out to his friends for help. Each friend joined in and took a role. Once the roles were split amongst Bow and all his friends, the play was conducted beautifully.

Have you ever been in Bow’s situation? I certainly have. Oftentimes my roles (e.g., caregiver) conflict. I attempt to orchestrate a play similar to Bow’s – juggling multiple roles at once, but end up experiencing role overload (i.e., trying to fulfil multiple roles simultaneously, but lacking the resources to perform them – Creary& Gordon, 2016).

Work and family are closely interconnected domains of life, and often compete. Work-family conflict is a form of inter-role conflict, in which participating in one domain (e.g., work) makes participation in another domain (e.g., family) difficult.

Since the military is a more rigid and demanding institution, compared to civilian work environments, greater work-family conflict is likely in military couples. In a recent study, military couples that experienced greater stress from the military-work environment reported lower marital quality (i.e., less satisfaction in marriage).

Additionally, dual-earning female spouses reported lower marital quality compared to male dual-earning spouses and civilian spouses. It is likely that females in dual-service couples juggle both work and family demands, and therefore may face greater work-family conflict.


    • In your work with military families, consider the interconnectedness of work and family roles and how they may lead to work-family conflict. 
    • Some military families may face role overload – provide them with resources (e.g., caregiving services) to help minimize their responsibilities and demands. 
    • Sharing specific strategies for coping with work- and family-related stress may help military couples and improve relationship satisfaction. 
    • Finally, for military families experiencing significant work-family conflict, consider referring them to educational events, such as workshops on reducing work and family tension.

Want to learn more?

For additional tools and resources to assist military couples and families in strengthening relationships, join us in our upcoming 2021-22 webinar series, A Close Look at Relationships: Supporting Military Couples!

Additional Materials

    1. Healthy Relationships Matter for Military Families
    2. Supporting Military Couple Relationships
    3. Building Healthy Relationships in Military Families


    1. Colombo, L., & Ghislieri, C. (2008). The work-to-family conflict: Theories and measures. Work, 15(1), 35-55.
    2. Creary, S. J., & Gordon, J. R. (2016). Role conflict, role overload, and role strain. Encyclopedia of Family Studies, 1-6.
    3. Edwards, J. R., & Rothbard, N. P. (2000). Mechanisms linking work and family: Clarifying the relationship between work and family constructs. Academy of Management Review, 25(1), 178–199.
    4. Woodall, K. A., Richardson, S. M., Pflieger, J. C., Hawkins, S. A., & Stander, V. A. (2020). Influence of work and life stressors on marital quality among dual and nondual military couples. Journal of Family Issues41(11), 2045-2064.

Writers Biography

Jenny Rea, Ph.D., is a military spouse and mom of four kiddos under six years. Jenny consults with OneOp and is an Assistant Professor of Practice in the Department of Human Services and Director of the Certificate in Military Families at the University of Arizona.





Image from iStock by Jacob Wackerhausen